Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg looks unstoppable in the 2016 F-1 World Championship season. He won the Russian GP at Sochi as easily as he did at Shanghai a fortnight ago. Though his Mercedes teammate and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton finished second to make it 1-2 for Team Mercedes, there was no challenge that Rosberg faced on Sunday. The other contender, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had a controversial first-lap collision with Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and his race was over at the start itself. In another pole-to-flag flawless performance, Rosberg shot into the lead as the the race began and kept his top position intact all the way to the finish line. To Hamilton’s credit, after he couldn’t make any dent in the qualifying because of yet another power-unit failure and started tenth, the Britisher avoided any further drama and finished second on the podium. In a race full of track drama, Vettel was not the only one making the exit. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg had also to retire in first lap after his car was made to spin by Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez. Another driver, who made the first-lap exit was Manor-Mercedes’ Rio Haryanto, while Daniil Kvyat, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Marcus Ericsson all needed to pit for fixing damages that their cars sustained in an extremely eventful race.
Championship leader Nico Rosberg was the pole winner in Saturday’s qualifying even as triple world champion was sidelined due to his engine’s power-unit failure. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel came second but he was slapped a five-place grid penalty due to an unscheduled gearbox change. For the second race in a row, Hamilton remained a mute witness in the qualifying as luck deserted him. In China too, Hamilton had faced the same problem and had to begin the race from the back of the grid. Valtteri Bottas of the Williams was second after Rosberg; Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished third, Williams’ Felipe Massa fourth; Red Bulls’s Daniel Ricciardo fifth; Force India’s Sergio Perez sixth; Ferrari’s Vettel seventh; Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat eighth; Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen ninth and Hamilton was tenth.
In a pitch-perfect performance on Sunday, Rosberg took the fullest advantage of his pole position and shot away with a clean run through the first two corners. Behind him, however, there were chaotic scenes. After their spat at Shanghai, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had another entanglement. But this was worse than the one at China since it ended the race for Vettel in the first lap itself. Kvyat ran into the back of Vettel’s Ferrari at turn two and gave the German another tap immediately. This caused Vettel’s car to whirl violently and it spun into the barrier at turn three. Everything was over for Vettel then and there. Kvyat received a 10-second stop-go penalty but that couldn’t console Vettel. The incident prompted deployment of virtual safety car on lap one. While Rosberg continued his solitary run, Hamilton helped himself through the messy start by other drivers and progressed to fifth position from tenth. After the restart on lap 4, Hamilton overtook Kimi Raikkonen at lap 7 to take the third place behind Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. At this point, Rosberg was 13 seconds ahead of Bottas. Hamilton pitted on lap 17 after Bottas had done so on the previous lap but the Briton took half second longer and once again fell behind the Finn. Taking advantage of fresh tyres, Hamilton pushed hard and passed Bottas. Hamilton trailed Rosberg by 12.9 seconds after the German pitted on lap 21. Despite a huge gap between the two Mercedes drivers, Hamilton tried hard and brought the gap down to less than 8 seconds by lap 36. But Hamilton had another engine issue at this point as he faced a water-pressure problem. This caused a drop in his speed and Rosberg enhanced his lead further. There was no stopping the German and he crossed the chequered flag 25 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen could jump ahead of Bottas to finish third, the other Williams driver Felipe Massa was fifth; McLaren’s Fernando Alonso sixth; Renault’s Kevin Magnussen seventh; Haas’ Romain Grosjean eighth; Force India’s Sergio Perez ninth and McLaren’s Jenson Button finished tenth.
A second 1-2 finish of the year for the Mercedes team has given them an 81 points lead over Ferrari in the constructors’ reckoning. But they were clearly helped by the first-lap exit for Vettel. As for Rosberg, he has now won 7 consecutive races, counting the last three of the 2015 season. He also wrote his name among such celebrities as Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell and Brazilian Ayrton Senna, who had won the first four races in a season. With 17 races remaining, Rosberg leads Hamilton by 43 points and Vettel is 67 points adrift of Rosberg in the championship standings.
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